For anyone who thought former FBI Director James Comey might have deflated some of the excitement surrounding his appearance Thursday on Capitol Hill by releasing prepared testimony on Wednesday, the lines to get into the hearing said otherwise.
People came before the crack of dawn to get into the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing room, with one person in line telling TIME that she got there at 3 a.m.
And Comey still had plenty to say beyond the seven pages of written testimony he dropped on Washington the day before. We still have questions. But here are four things we learned from Comey’s first big moment in the spotlight since Trump fired him last month.
Comey arranged for his own memo about Trump to be leaked
A report from the New York Times last month dropped like a bombshell: Trump, according to a memo written by Comey, had asked his FBI Director to back off the investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, raising the specter that the President may have obstructed justice. Trump has denied the account. And while it was obvious to experienced Washington hands that Comey was probably behind the drip-drip of damaging leaks that have enraged Trump in the weeks since he sent Comey packing, Comey’s acknowledgement was still striking.
Goaded by Trump’s Twitter threat that “Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press,” Comey did just that.
“It didn’t dawn on me, originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation [there] might be a tape, my judgment was I needed get that out into the public square,” Comey said. “And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter.”
Comey didn’t identify that friend, other than to say the person is a law professor at Columbia University — promptly crashing the law school’s website. Professor Daniel Richman later confirmed to reporters that he was the source.
Comey didn’t identify that friend, other than to say the person is a law professor at Columbia University — promptly crashing the law school’s website.
Trump supporters, including his eldest son, quickly expressed outrage.
But Comey got the last laugh, at least for now: He said he had hoped the leak would eventually lead to the appointment of a special counsel, and that’s exactly what happened.
The special counsel will probably look at whether Trump obstructed justice
When asked if Trump was “trying to obstruct justice” by allegedly asking him to back off Flynn, Comey did not offer his own judgment on Trump’s intent. But he said he was “sure” special counsel Robert Mueller would look into it.
“I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct,” Comey said. “I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards to try to understand what the intention was there and whether that’s an offense.”
Mueller has wide-ranging authority to investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, including whether or not Trump’s associates colluded. It was unclear whether Comey had firsthand knowledge of Mueller’s investigation when he made the comment. But multiple reports have indicated that Comey vetted his testimony with Mueller to make sure it would not interfere.
Comey felt pressured by Obama’s attorney general to downplay the Clinton investigation
While the hearing mostly focused on Trump, Comey, their interactions and his firing, Republicans on the committee also revisited Comey’s controversial handling last year of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. And Comey made clear that the actions of Loretta Lynch, who was then-President Obama’s Attorney General, contributed to how he discussed the case in public.
Asked if Lynch’s brief meeting with former President Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac led him to go public about the investigation, Comey responded, “Yes, in an ultimately conclusive way.”
“That was the thing that capped it for me that I had to do something separately to protect the credibility of the investigation, which meant both the FBI and the Justice Department,” Comey said.
He also revealed that Lynch had asked him to refer to the investigation as a “matter” instead of an “investigation” — a request he said “confused and concerned” him.
‘Lordy,’ he’s not afraid of any tapes Trump has
On May 12, Trump tweeted that he might have tapes of his conversations with Comey at the White House.
Comey seemed unbothered by the tweet during Thursday’s testimony.
“I’ve seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said.
“The President surely knows whether he taped me, and if he did, my feelings aren’t hurt,” he added later. “Release all the tapes, I’m good with that.”
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